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A Billion Tulips for $30

by Johnny Lucas

Blooming Holland: easy, cheap, incredible

Can you imagine standing in the middle of a Dutch bulb field at the peak of the blooming season? There are two extremely amazing things about Holland in the spring, one of them you sort of know already. The blooming bulbfields are spectacular! That's the one you sort of know, although if you haven't seen it, smelled it, and ridden a bicycle through it for yourself you don't really know it. The colours and the experience of the perfect spring days are so intense, so superlative and so unlike any other phenomenon you are likely to have experienced on this planet that any photo or account of them is bound to be suspect

What you're very unlikely to know about Holland's spectacular spring display is that there's almost no one there. It's not exactly a secret that Holland grows tulips, but one a recent pedal through the polders I encountered a few Dutch citizens out their constitutional, some men looking over the blooms with a professional interest, and a small, quiet group of British gardeners cycling in formation along the canal banks.

If you can hold the image of a spectacular Dutch spring in your mind's eye - how about your mind's nose? Tulips have some scent, but hyacinths and narcissus are promiscuous perfumers. The air over a field of hyacinths seems so thick and heavy with aroma that it's a wonder you can see through it.

Luckily this phenomenon is very easy to experience. And here's a third amazing thing about going through Dutch bulbfields in the spring: it's cheap. When was the last time you heard the word "cheap" used about anything in Europe?

Here's how to do it: get yourself to Amsterdam - not too difficult and there are lots of other good reasons for going there. Go to Centraal Station, the hub of most busses and trams. Buy a ticket from the easy-to-use self-serve machines and get on a train for Haarlem - there's one leaving almost every 5 minutes. After the or 20 minute train trip, walk downstairs in the train station, go into the bike depot, choose a bike, give a modest deposit to the attendant (of course he speaks English - this is Holland). Now pedal. Bike for an easy half hour though the winding streets and canal-side roads of ancient Haarlem (all with bike paths) and you're there.

Amsterdam House

If that's too difficult you could even take the train to A-H, rent a bike there, and ride for less than 10 minutes to the flowers, but it's worth the slight effort to see Haarlem and there's a larger selection of bikes for rent at the Haarlem station.

It's that easy. And it's cheap. The return train trip, the bike rental, and a big lunch at a village café will be about $30 per person. Yes that's Canadian dollars. You could easily spend more than that on film for your camera on such a day.

But Holland in the spring, you say, doesn't it rain? Yes, it does. As far as I know there's no Dutch rhyme that goes "April showers bring April flowers" but there should be. A little water in the air never stopped a Dutch person from riding a bike, and a gentle spring moistening is no hardship in the Netherlands, but it's best by far to see the tulips in the silver sunshine for which Holland is also famous.

How does one arrange to get sunshine for a day in the bulbfields? The simple answer is that you must arrange that in the same way you arrange to appreciate a soufflé at its peak, or a tender flower at the height of perfection, or even spring itself: you position yourself where you want to be, get ready - and wait.

Plan to be in Holland during the peak of the blooming season (usually early April to early May). A little rain is almost guaranteed, but when it comes you won't have to waste your time. Holland has a vast selection of good umbrellas and more museums per square mile than any other country on earth; the museums display some of the best art collections on the world. The shopping is varied and is its own entertainment. The music scene in the Netherlands is as good as anywhere else in Europe. There are big cities and tiny towns to explore. There are casinos and some great restaurants, including Indonesian restaurants that have better Indonesian food than most restaurants in Indonesia. Everyone speaks English, they love Canadians, and the beer is great.

On a sunny morning, make your move to the bulbfields. Tear yourself away form the museums for one day, their contents have waited a few centuries and can wait one more day. Get out in the fields as early as you can. See the mist lift and then burn off. Be there as the panorama of flowers in the field answers the sunshine with a radiance of its own. See the light change from filtered silver dust to shafts of gold. See a few beads of water on the petals of a dark tulip refract newly washed sunlight.

I did all that last year, and would do it every year if I could. I was amazed at every turn that there were still more flowers to be seen, more configurations of canals and fields. More neat villages hemmed in by throbbing red tulip fields, more old churches towering over fields of hyacinths whose aroma would be sure to rise closer to heaven than any church spire. More seas of daffodils waving their heads as if they were a well coordinated stadium crowd.

Almost as amazing as the spectacle of colours and scents is that it's so easy to be out there in the middle of it. With just the slightest effort you can have the whole countryside almost to yourself. You share the scene will be a light assortment of Dutch farm animals picturesquely going about their business, several industrious workers in the fields (and even they stop periodically to look around in amazement) and perhaps a very few other spectators pedalling along the bike paths. It's impossible to be anything but perfectly happy on such a day, so anyone you meet is also sure to be grinning from ear to ear.

If you can distinguish a tulip from a turkey, you're enough of a gardener to be amazed. If you've ridden a bike any time in the last 60 years, you've got what it takes to ride the flat bike paths of Holland. If you find out why everybody doesn't go to the Dutch bulbfields in the spring at least once in their lives, let me know.

For more information contact the Netherlands Bureau of Tourism

1,117 words

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Publication history
Page maintained by Johnny Lucas, © J.P.Lucas. Created: June 24, 1996 Updated: January 11, 1997